Virtual school can be damaging to children's mental health, CDC study says

A new CDC study says virtual instruction may present serious risks to the mental health of children.

(CNN)Virtual instruction may pose more risks to the mental health and wellness of children and parents than in-person learning, according to a study published Thursday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More support may be needed to deal with the effects of the pandemic.

Parents whose children received virtual instruction or a combination of virtual and in-person instruction were more likely to report increased risk on 11 of 17 indicators of child and parental well-being, according to the new CDC study. The agency's researchers looked at survey responses from October and November 2020 from 1,290 parents with children ages 5 to 12 years old.
Nearly 25% of parents whose children received virtual instruction or combined instruction reported worsened mental or emotional health in their children, compared to 16% of parents whose children received in-person instruction.
    They were also more likely to say their children were less physically active, spent less time outside and spent less time with friends.
      "The difference is like night and day, especially for my kids," Stephanie Kokinos, a mother of two from New York City, said. "I think we've normalized this remote way of learning, and there's nothing normal about it."
        Kokinos has two daughters, ages 5 and 7. She is currently unemployed, and her husband works from home.
        "I can't even begin to think if I was working during this time," she said. "It really has been a full-time job, just to make sure that their needs are met from an academic standpoint, but more specifically from an emotional and well-being standpoint."
          Since the pandemic began, her kids have had to face four separate school closures and returned in-person again March 19.
          "It's very, very damaging -- that back and forth with kids -- especially at this age. It's really hard to put yourself as an adult, having a full functioning frontal lobe, (in their shoes with) what they are experiencing and how they're acting," Kokinos said.
          "Because you see it differently (in each kid). Some kids are retreating, some kids have kind of lost their spark, they've lost their spirit. Some kids don't have a love for learning anymore," she said. "They're burned out, they have headaches, their eyes hurt. They're not getting social interaction. Their needs are not being met -- period."

          Parents are feeling the effects too

          This trend held when parents answered questions about their own well-being.
          About 54% of parents whose children received virtual instruction reported emotional distress, compared to 38% of parents whose children received in-person instruction. Parents of children receiving virtual instruction were also more likely to report loss of work, concerns over job stability, child care challenges, conflict between working and providing child care, and difficulty sleeping.
          Parents of children who received combined instruction were more likely than those of children who received in-person instruction to report loss of work and conflict between working and providing child care. About 43% reported emotional distress.
          Lauren Dover, from Brighton, Illinois, is a mother of four -- ages 11, 6, 4 and 2. She has chosen to do remote learning with her oldest two, Brady in fifth grade and Ben in second grade, since the start of the pandemic.
          "I'm a stay-at-home mom, and I think that it was better for our family to do it at home, especially because I know a lot of parents don't have the option to stay home. So, I wanted them to be able to take that space in the building," she said.
          Although Brady has struggled with missing the social aspect of in-person school due to what in their household they call the "big germ," Ben has had an even harder time.
          "(Ben) is very much an extrovert